This article is primarily meant for the benefit of sanctuaries, zoos, and other professional animal caregivers. It is in no way meant to encourage individuals to obtain or own young tigers. All the articles I have written on this subject explain why it is not appropriate for either the human or the tiger to be owned by private ownership, except in those very, very rare circumstances where the human has the knowledge, experience, finances, stability, and property to embark on such a dangerous and complicated endeavor for the perhaps 25 years the cat will live. This is not an elitist viewpoint. I am in favor of any animal receiving a happy, healthy, and stress-free existence, regardless of the source. Rather, it is based upon years of time spent with exotic cats and observing how few individuals have the rudimentary skills necessary to interact with an exotic cat safely, much less give it the security and support it needs.
At the International Exotic Feline Sanctuary, we have just weaned three white tiger cubs we raised from the age of 4 weeks to their current 5 months. Since we are a sanctuary, not a breeding facility, we don’t often get very young cubs to raise. While I have raised young cubs, I wouldn’t consider myself highly experienced in the skills of bottle-feeding young cubs, and therefore sought out as much information as I could find to ensure we were using the very latest research for successfully rearing baby tigers.
I was surprised at the lack of good information on the Internet, no matter how diligently I searched. I got information anecdotally from several individuals I knew and trusted who had raised cubs frequently. I decided it would be a good idea to publish our experience and techniques for raising these cubs, as they have been extremely healthy and trouble-free throughout their bottle-feeding period, and they are now very healthy young tigers weighing approximately 50-60 pounds each. I hope this information helps other sanctuaries, zoos, and other caregivers that need this information.
First Four Weeks
For the first two days, their mother nursed the cubs. After being taken from their mother, they were given horse colostrums for 5 days. Their formula for the first four weeks was one ounce of Esbilac added to two ounces of water and 2 ccs of Nutri-Cal. They were each fed this formula 4-8 times a day until they were taking their bottle regularly.
It was at this point that the cubs were delivered to IEFS.
After that period, their formula was changed to the following:
Esbilac 1 can, 12 oz. (powder)
Goat milk 1 can, 12 oz. (fluid)
Nutri-cal 1 tube, 4.25 oz. (paste)
Bottled water to make one gallon
In addition, we added Gerber stage 2 baby food. We used 6 jars, 2.5 oz. each jar, of the following varieties:
2 jars turkey Gerber stage 2 baby food
2 jars chicken Gerber stage 2 baby food
2 jars beef Gerber stage 2 baby food (veal Gerber stage 2 baby food can be
substituted for beef if necessary)
See at weekly data after the formula chart below: we added additional baby food at 8 weeks of age, and we added ground turkey to the formula at 10 weeks of age. We increased the amount of ground turkey added to the formula at 12 weeks of age.
Gerber stage 2 baby food is highly recommended, as it does not contain any onion, which is toxic to exotic cats.
Directions for Making Formula
Always wash your hands before touching anything that will be in contact with the cubs!!
1. Heat a few ounces of bottled water to warm
2. Pour the warm bottled water into the blender
3. Add the entire tube of Nutri-cal into the warm water (having the water warm simply helps dissolve the Nutra-cal)
4. Blend Nutri-cal into the water while opening up baby food jars
5. Add the baby food to the blender
6. Liquefy the contents of the blender until thoroughly mixed (about 5 minutes)
7. While the blender is still on liquefy, begin slowly adding the Esbilac powder to the mixture – if added too fast, the Esbilac will begin to clump and will take longer to mix
8. Add the goat’s milk to the blender at this time to help the Esbilac dissolve into the mixture
9. Let the mixture continue to blend for a few minutes to make sure well blended
10. Pour mixture into a one-gallon container
11. Add enough bottled water to the mixture to make one gallon (use some bottled water to rinse out the blender to get the last of the mixture)
12. This gallon will be good for about 2 days in the refrigerator – do not keep longer than that. Before pouring formula into the bottles, be sure to stir or shake the container well. The baby food especially tends to fall to the bottom.
13. Pour a specified amount of formula into the bottles. Heat the bottles to warm the formula. Remember that the outside of the bottle will warm faster than the liquid inside, and always test the temperature of the formula by dabbing a few drops on your arm. Do not put nipples in the microwave – this will quickly affect their elastic properties.
Understand that this much formula was made for 3 tiger cubs. Since you don’t want to keep the formula refrigerated for more than 2 days, you would obviously make proportionately less for fewer cubs.
It is very important that the area in which the cubs are kept is as clean as possible, and anyone who comes into contact with the cubs should take precautionary measures to keep it so. The area in which our cubs lived was scrubbed prior to their arrival with a 50/50 bleach and water solution. The floors were mopped with water and a capful of bleach daily. A footbath concentration of 50/50 bleach and water was always present at the door. It was required to step in this solution before walking into the cub area. Anyone who had contact with the cubs was required to wash their hands before contact. Disinfectant spray was also used on the gates and latches on a regular basis. Any fecal matter collected was removed immediately and the area disinfected.
The bottles should be kept as clean as possible. We used very hot water, antibacterial dish soap and a bottlebrush. All parts of the bottle (bottle, cap, nipple, etc.) must be disassembled and scrubbed individually. Be sure to scrub inside of the nipple with a smaller brush. The bottlebrushes should be replaced every so often so a good, firm, and clean brush is used. The bottles and parts should be rinsed with hot water. After all washing is through, soak the bottles and parts in a sinkful of clean water with a capful of bleach to sterilize. Do not let the bottles soak for more than about 5-10 minutes. To prevent residue on the bottles, dry all parts immediately with a paper towel.
It is very important to use the correct-sized nipples for the cubs to prevent them from drinking too fast and getting milk into their lungs. At 5 weeks of age, we were using three-holed nipples. We used an exacto knife to enlarge the holes slightly as the cubs got older. At 10 weeks of age, ground turkey was put into their formula. Due to the tendency of the turkey to clump and clog the nipples, we began using crosscut nipples. We used an exacto knife to adjust the size of these crosscuts as the cubs got older. We regularly replaced the nipples when they became sticky or eventually chewed up.
Be sure to feed the cubs with the bottle held at an angle which insures that no air is taken with the formula. Have the cub standing with all four feet on the floor and its head angled up to insure that no fluid enters its lungs. Always watch the cub while it is feeding to make sure that it maintains a position that insures no fluid enters the lungs; perhaps the most dangerous part of bottle-feeding young cubs. If the cub slows down or stops feeding, just give it a few minutes to relax then try again.
We fed in accordance with the following chart:
(A bottle was made for each cub with the specified number of ounces for that week; however, an additional bottle was also made in case any cub wanted more to drink.)
|Number of Weeks Old||5 wks||6 wks||7 wks||8 wks||9 wks||10 wks||11 wks||12 wks||13 wks||14 wks||15 wks|
|Number of ounces offers per feeding:||4||5 – 6||7||8||9||9||9||9||10 – 13||10 – 13||10 – 13|
|Number of ounces consumed on average per feeding:||4||5.5||7||7.5||7.5||6||7||8||7||8||8|
|Number of times feed daily:||4||4||4||4||4||3||3||3||2||2||1|
|Time of Day fed (morning to night)||8, 12, 5, 10||8, 12, 5 10||8, 12, 5, 10||8, 12, 5 10||8, 12, 5, 10||8, 12, 5||8, 12, 5||8, 5||8, 5||8, 5||12|
Six Weeks Old
At this time, we reduced the Nutri-cal to 1/2 of a 4.25 oz. Tube. We also began feeding small amounts of ground turkey to the cubs after their bottle at each meal to begin teaching them to eat solid food. Concentrated crystalline taurine was added to the cubs’ bottles also in the amount of 200 mg per cub per day.
Ten Weeks Old
We began adding Missing Link Supplement in the amount of 1/4 tsp. per cub per feeding. We also added 2.5 oz of ground turkey to the formula. The ground turkey was added at the same step as the baby food and was liquefied in the blender for 5 minutes to blend the meat. It is important to thoroughly blend this meat. When the formula sits for a while, the ground turkey in the formula tends to clump together and make strings. It is more important than ever to stir or shake the formula container to properly mix. As more ground turkey is added to the formula, it is even a good idea to stir what is in the gallon container and then re-blend the amount of formula you plan to pour into the bottles. This will help prevent ground turkey strings from clogging up the nipples when the cubs are trying to drink. At this time, the cubs were also given a pound of meat each per day in addition to their formula.
In addition, we began adding Dallas Crown meat to begin the process of giving the cubs what they would ultimately be eating as adults. Initially, the proportion of Dallas Crown to ground turkey was 1:4. We were giving each cub a pound a day initially.
Twelve Weeks Old
We began adding Pet-Tabs vitamins in the cubs’ meat in the amount of 1 Pet Tab per cub per day. We also increased the amount of ground turkey in the formula to 5 oz.
Here is the supplement schedule we used week by week:
No calcium was used during the first week of introducing ground turkey to the cubs (6 weeks of age). At 7 weeks of age, a pinch of calcium was added to the meat. At 10 weeks, Missing Link was added to the meat along with calcium. At 12 weeks, Pet-Tabs were also added to the meat. Concentrated crystalline taurine was given to the cubs in their bottles beginning at 6 weeks of age (200 mg per cub per day). As the cubs decreased the amount of formula they were drinking and increased the amount of solid meat they were eating, the taurine was put into their meat instead of their bottles. By 16 weeks, about 400 mg per cub per day was added to the meat. Once the cubs were receiving all Dallas Crown, the amount of taurine was cut to 200 mg per day.
|Number of Weeks||7 wks||8 wks||9 wks||10 wks||11 wks||12 wks||13 wks||14 wks||15 wks||16 wks|
|Calcium||Pinch||1/8 tsp||1/8 tsp||1/4 tsp||1/2 tsp||1/2 tsp||1/2 tsp||1/2 tsp||3/4 tsp||3/4 tsp|
|Missing Link||None||None||None||1/4 tsp||1/4 tsp||1/2 tsp||1/2 tsp||1/2 tsp||3/4 tsp||3/4 tsp|
Here is the solid meat schedule we used week by week:
Small amounts of ground turkey were introduced to the cubs by hand at 6 weeks of age. All Dallas Crown used was blended in a food processor.
|Number of Weeks||6 wks||7 wks||8 wks||9 wks||10 wks||11 wks||12 wks||13 wks||14 wks||15 wks||16 wks|
|Amount of Meat||2-3 oz.||4-8 oz.||8-12 oz.||12-16 oz.||1 lb.||1 1/2 lbs.||2 lbs.||2 1/2 lbs.||2 3/4-3 lbs.||3 1/2 lbs||3 1/2 lbs.|
|Number of times fed daily||1||1||1||2||5||5||4||4||3||3||3|
|Portion of Dallas Crown||None||None||None||None||1/4||1/2||3/4||7/9||7/9||All||All|
The cubs were stimulated to urinate and defecate from the day they were born once a day until they were about 13-14 weeks at the end of one of their bottle-feedings. We used baby wipes to stimulate. If they did not defecate at the time of stimulation, or if they defecated only a very small amount, then we tried to stimulate them again at the next feeding. The cubs began to urinate on their own around 6 weeks. At 13-14 weeks of age, a little stimulation was provided for defecation. By 15 weeks, the cubs were defecating and on their own.
Mineral oil was used to help defecation. Each cub was different. The mineral oil was started when baby food was added to the cubs’ formula (when incisors were majority of the way in, before 5 weeks old). For our male cubs, 1 cc of mineral oil was added two different times daily to their bottles. For our female cub, 1/2 cc of mineral oil was added two different times daily to her bottle. The mineral oil was put in their bottles at the feeding times surrounding the stimulation. For instance, feeding times occurred at 8 am, 12 noon, and 5 pm. At the noon feeding, the cubs were stimulated. Therefore the mineral oil was put in their bottles at 8 am and at 5 pm. The amount of mineral oil was adjusted according to the appearance of their stool, especially when solid meat was introduced. If the amount was changed, it was not changed again for at least a day in order to allow the cubs to acclimate to the new dose. Mineral oil was lessened as the cubs grew older and their diet stabilized and was eventually removed altogether when the cubs were about 9 weeks of age.
We kept a careful check on the condition and progress of teething of our cubs. We do not advocate beginning to feed solid food until the cubs’ eyeteeth are coming all the way in. It can vary from cub to cub, but here is our experience:
|Number of weeks old||5||5-6||6-7||7-8||9|
|Condition of teeth||All incisors through||Gums are swollen, eye teeth not broken through but protruding||Eye teeth broke through, came in||Gums swollen, molars coming in||All molars through|
Here is a chart showing the average weight of our cubs week by week. We feel that their progress was about as it should have been. The cubs always looked like their condition was about as it should have been:
|Number of Weeks||5 1/2||7 1/2||8||8 1/2||9 1/2||10||11||12||13||14||15|
|Weight||7-8 lbs||9-10 lbs||12-13 lbs||12-14 lbs||16-17 lbs||19-20 lbs||20-22 lbs||21-26 lbs||22-29 lbs||27-34 lbs||29-35lbs|
Our veterinarian, Dr. Greg Moore, vaccinated in the following quantities and times:
Vaccines were administered at 7, 10, and 13 weeks of age.
Brand Fort Dodge
1 ml per shot per cub
The shot is for: Feline Rhinotracheitis, Calici, Panleukopenia, Chlamydia Psittaci Vaccine
Killed virus and Chlamydia
At sixteen weeks of age we considered the cubs weaned and eating 3 times a day. At this point they were receiving all Dallas Crown with the same supplements as previously. We continued to give a bottle at their noon feeding utilizing the same formula without any baby food. We felt this was a good transition for the cubs and additional insurance that they were receiving all the nutritional needs they required. It was also a social interaction with their human caregivers that they seemed to enjoy very much. As of this writing, the cubs are five months old and weigh 50-60 pounds.
Of course, I have only addressed the cubs’ nutritional needs in this article. We at the International Exotic Feline Sanctuary feel that their emotional needs are just as important to the cubs’ well-being, health, and happiness, if not more so. I have not gone into all the techniques we are using to insure that they have a happy childhood, because it is quite complicated, extensive, and intricate. It would take at least as long as writing about their nutritional development. Those facilities that are interested are welcome to contact us for this information. We are very pleased with their interaction with their human caregivers and the respect which both the cats and the humans show to each other.
I would like to express my appreciation to one of our keepers, Ms. Janelle Lemke, for her assistance in preparing this information. Janelle was primarily responsible for preparing the formula and meat for the cubs, and she kept careful records, which were used in this article.
Hopefully, this data will assist others that are faced with the daunting task of raising young tiger cubs. Certainly, we recognize that there are a number of different approaches and diets that have probably been successfully used; the above information is perhaps just one of them. At least it will give others a point of departure for their nutritionist and/or veterinarian.